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Notes on counselling

The value of introspection

Dr. Soumitra Basu

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded from all sides so that the concept of seclusion has become an anathema in our global village. The era of abject materialism and glorified hedonism impinges on our senses, moulds our perceptions, modifies our emotions, distorts our thoughts, customises our values and impersonalises our morality. No wonder, the global mindset is today ‘brainwashed’ by mobile phones, e-mails, sms’s, facebooks and the Internet. In this cataclysm of chaos, the average human being gets swept away to become:

“An image fluttering on the screen of fate,
Half-animated for a passing show,
Or a castaway on the ocean of Desire
Flung to the eddies in a ruthless sport
And tossed along the gulfs of Circumstance,
A creature born to bend beneath the yoke,
A chattel and a plaything of Time’s lords,
Or one more pawn who comes destined to be pushed
One slow move forward on a measureless board
In the chess-play of the earth-soul with Doom,—
Such is the human figure drawn by Time (1).”

If this is the fate of usual life, how difficult can the trajectory of a life be, steeped in a maladaptive stress syndrome, anxiety neurosis or depressive disorder. Swept by forces of disharmony and distracted by a thousand stimuli, such a subject can get lost in the thoroughfares of thought and start suffering from alienation, boredom and meaninglessness. Nihilism can result not from the realisation of Nirvāṇa but as an escape from the banality of life that no counselling session, therapeutic intervention, moralistic sermon or existential management can rectify. One is not satisfied with explanations of logic, the appeal of nostalgia or the pangs of love.

As a therapist, I have often felt that the best intervention in such a situation should be to allow the subject a judicious space and an optimal time for introspection. One should be allowed to know oneself, to have a dialogue with oneself, to discover one’s own planes of consciousness, to discern the roots of one’s own problem in the depths of one’s own being and to listen in silence to the inner guidance. One must be trained in the art of detachment so that when one withdraws into the depths of the being, a portion can remain as a witness to observe in a non-judgmental way one’s own movements. As an extension of this process, one can learn to identify with one’s positive movements so as to consciously de-link from one’s negative and maladaptive attributes.

In the chaos of life, in the noise and din of the world, in the pot pourri of unceasing stimulation, there is no space for the optimal seclusion needed for a true introspection. Yet introspection was always a necessary prelude in the quest of self-knowledge. In the Indian tradition, an individual opting for an ascetic life is at first initiated as an apprentice-brahmachari so as to introspect if he is to be capable of undergoing the rigours ahead. In Communist China, the Red Guards had to spend sufficient time introspecting before they were allowed to take on the responsibilities of their Party.

Introspection needs a space-time matrix insulated from the usual stimuli governing and disturbing the self, regardless of the nature of stimuli that range from mobile phone calls to outpourings of love. An execution of such a planning may appear harsh, albeit cruel, but nevertheless worth the trouble for a greater gain.

There are two related pathways for introspection:

a. An optimal time-seclusion is needed so that one can be led to understand that the linearity of time, along which life-events are assessed, is a frontal appearance. Time is non-linear, circular and if every moment carries the accomplishment and anguish of the past, the present is also impregnated with the potentials of the future. If there is a dimension of time, there is also a dimension of timelessness and thus all events in life need not be linked with time. The realisation that it is futile to always compete with time brings a great relief. Time at first appears as a resistance to the march of life but it can be turned into a medium and condition for progress. It can finally be turned into an instrument of the soul (2).

b. A favourable spatial isolation is needed to enjoy the benefit of seclusion and introspection before one is again exposed to the intrusions of one’s public as well as private space. This is also a preparation to enter one’s inner spaces, the quintessence of which is the soul-space or cidakasa. The password for entering this soul-space is ego-transcendence. “It is difficult at first because our egoistic habits of thought, of sensation, of feeling block up the avenues by which we can arrive at the perception that is needed. It is difficult afterwards because the faith, the surrender, the courage requisite in this path are not easy to the ego-clouded soul (3).” Yet, the very movement of a quest in spatial isolation triggers an introspective search for the roots of one’s problem in the depths of the being.

The movement of introspection not only brings an insight into the nature and origin of one’s malady but also automatically an intuitive healing guidance that springs from the silence of one’s soul-space. “The lotus of the eternal knowledge and the eternal perfection is a bud closed and folded up within us. It opens swiftly or gradually, petal by petal, through successive realisations….All life, all thought, all energising of the faculties, all experiences passive or active, become thenceforward so many shocks which disintegrate the teguments of the soul and removes the obstacles to the inevitable efflorescence (4).”

Introspection becomes a diagnostic instrument, a therapeutic tool, a healing guidance and a self-knowledge discipline for psychological growth.


1. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 28. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, pp. 17-8.

2. Op. cit. SABCL, Volume 20. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970. pp. 61-2.

3. Ibid, p. 57.

4. Ibid, p.47.

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